Graphic Journalism

These Graphic Novels Are Both Beautiful and Woke AF

The expansive genre of Graphic Journalism is something that should be kept an eye on and supported. A new generation of graphic novels seeks to highlight humanitarian crises. They aim to make these events more understandable and relatable, as many stories are quite simply over-looked when read about in the media, if reported by ad about at all.


The many attempts to bring these stories to the page has resulted in would-be readers becoming spoiled for choice within this beautiful genre, which brings different types of multimedia into one space.


Here is a list of eleven sensational graphic novels which highlight the unstable world around us through the marriage of words and art. These stories of migration lend us an eye into the worlds of so many effected by modern warfare, famine, and the drugs trade.


1. Illegal: A Graphic Novel Telling One Boy’s Epic Journey to Europe  by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin. 
Illustrated by Giovanni Rigano



Image Via The Guardian

This powerful and deeply affecting tale of one child refugee’s journey over the Mediterranean is primarily an account of the twenty-first century refugee experience. By June of this year alone, according to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, almost 83,000 migrants arrived by sea in Europe. 2,000 lives have been claimed since January making the body of water between Libya and Italy the deadliest sea passage in the world.


Rigano’s naturalistic, captivating blue illustrations magnify this tragedy. The non-fictional protagonist, Ebo, is a twelve-year-old orphan from Niger who follows his older brother to the city of Agadez. From there they are trafficked across the Sahara to Tripoli, and from Tripoli, take an equally, if not more terrifying, journey across the sea. In an attempt to draw attention to this massive humanitarian crisis which seems to have been pushed aside by the media, the writer and illustrators of Illegal are bringing it to light again through graphic journalism.


2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and illustrated Johnathan Cape



Image via Word Press

This bestselling novel is a graphic autobiography depicting the author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Tehran up to her adult years when she was sent to boarding school in Vienna. Forced to wear a veil at her now segregated school under the strict regime that befell her country, Marjane’s independent, headstrong and often outspoken personality often got her in trouble. With her passions lying in social activism, we are shown a story of a girl’s search for her identity and freedom during the years of struggle imposed by the Iran-Iraq war, and the societal changes that came about in its wake. 


3. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi and illustrated Johnathan Cape


Persepolis 2

Image Via WordPress 


Persepolis 2 is the continuation of Marjane Satrapi’s memoir-in-comic-strip. Her story continues when she is sent to a convent in Vienna where she faces the trials of adolescence alone, far from her home to which she longs to return. Once graduation is over and she moves back to Tehran, her future continues to hang in the balance as she struggles with being an outsider both in Europe and at home again. 

4. A Perilous Journey. Series by Benjamin Dix and Lindsay Pollock.


Khalid's story

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A Perilous Journey is a trilogy of three comics, Khalid’s Story, Hasko’s Story and Mohammad’s Story, all based on first hand accounts of asylum seeker’s lives in the twenty-first century. Thankfully, these men have since been granted asylum in Scandinavia.


The stories were further animated by PositiveNegatives, a company working to make known the stories of individuals who have been affected by conflicts around the world and you can watch them here. What this series represents is the greatest displacement crisis since World War Two.


5. Madaya Mom. Dispatches from Xana ONeill and Rym Mamtaz. Colorist: Mivoslav Mvra


Madaya Mom

Image via ABCnews

The animated story of one mother’s unimaginable struggle for survival whilst being trapped inside the Syrian town of Madaya for over a year. Husband, wife and five children are the subject of this piece of graphic journalism who are struggling to survive through the unsanitary living conditions, violence, threats and starvation the Assad Regime and ISIS have forced upon them and their town.


Boiled leaves and grass is what they can hope for for dinner. The pre-war memories are illustrated in color while the depictions of life now in Madaya are all black and white – demonstrating how unthinkable and traumatic these memories will be to this family, if they are to survive.


6. Rolling Blackouts Created by Sarah Glidden


ROlling Blackouts

Image Via Amazon


In 2010, Sarah Glidden traveled to Syria, Iraq and Turkey while shadowing her journalist friends who were on a mission to answer the question ‘What is Journalism?’ Coming face to face with families who had been displaced by conflict and persecution, Rolling Blackouts documents the personal testimonies of those who are representative of the migration crisis happening across Europe and the Middle East.


This novel is an example of how comic journalism can help us understand the refugee crisis. Painting the picture allows the personal testimonies to come through. “Geometric cityscapes and rolling landscapes are aspects lost when an experience is only conveyed in words” says Glidden of the marriage between art and literature in her work.


7. Threads: From the Refugee Crisis. Written and illustrated by Kate Evans


The Calais Jungle

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Threads is a very special piece of graphic journalism that recounts Kate Evans’ time spent living and working with those who ended up in ‘The Jungle’, a massive refugee camp near the French Port of Calais where hundreds of thousands of people lived for months with intentions of making it to Britain.


This is a full color graphic novel documenting ‘the human flood’ and separating this mass image into smaller droplets by the author having spent weeks on end living, eating and forging intimate relationships with displaced peoples in search of a new home, yet remaining stuck by Europe’s closed borders policy.


8. Stories From the Grand Hotel


Hayden's Story

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German design student Wolfgang Speer is among those who have illustrated the traumatic and epic journeys of refugees who are living at a retirement home turned refugee safehouse in Augsburg, Germany. Hayder, a man who was forced by smugglers to jump ship on the open ocean in the middle of the night is amongst those who survived and somehow made it to safety at ‘The Grand Hotel Cosmopolis’.


How Hayder was rescued by helicopter in his final moments is wonderfully illustrated in this short comic, which in total is a collection of eight accounts of different people met by University of Augsburg design students at this hotel. The project aims to eradicate prejudices about refugees through means of comic strip.


9. Hooked




Writers from production company PositiveNegatives traveled to Guinea-Bissau, a small country on the west coast of Africa to document how the drugs trade changed and continues to affect the livelihoods its inhabitants. Bissau is Africa’s first narco-state, due to its geographic location, it has been targeted by Columbian drug cartels and is being used as a transit hub for the cocaine trade out of Latin America and into Europe.


The graphic novel’s story is of a group of people who come across a washed up boat filled with blocks of an unknown white powder, and from there their lives begin to rapidly change. The accounts were edited by those who were interviewed themselves to ensure a reliable first hand account has been shared.


10. Pyongyang: A Journey in North KoreaWritten by Guy Delisle



Image via Getty Images


Canadian cartoonist and animator Guy Delisle was granted access to one of the most secretive nations on Earth back in 2001. He spent two months in the capitol of North Korea taking note of his observations of this enigmatic country which in turn formed the basis for this personal and informative ground breaking graphic novel. In contrast to the underlying theme of migration to this list, Pyongyang: A Journey to North Korea is based around a country which prohibits the movement of any and all of its inhabitants outside of the country’s borders.


11.  Palestine. Written and illustrated by Joe Sacco



Image Via Al Jazeera


Palestine comes from famous graphic journalist Joe Sacco. Written and drawn are his experiences living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in December 1991 and January 1992 The illustrations focus on squalor and destitute landscapes of rubble and chaos while the writing focuses on the minute details of everyday life in an occupied territory and the presentation of frustrations, daily struggle and humiliations of the Palestinian people.


An intro by founder of postcolonial studies Edward Said is included. “There are very few people who do graphic journalism the way Sacco does, going on the field, making cross-interviews,” explains graphic journalist Gianluca Costantini. “What developed has been rather a sensitivity of a generation of comic book artists towards certain themes. Many of them don’t do exclusively graphic journalism. They are artists who choose this medium to tackle timely issues.”




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